Social networking Web sites like Facebook and MySpace are a relatively new facet of the Internet. Social gathering places began with Usenet in the early 1980s. This is where people could first interact with each other in "newsgroups" by posting messages on public bulletin boards. The message board platform is still alive and kicking today as a vital aspect of many social networking Web sites. It's human nature for people to congregate with others who share common interests, so many newsgroups became early forms of Internet cliques. If you wanted to chat about your favorite music or television show, you could log in to a newsgroup full of like-minded individuals and share your thoughts.
Not much research has been done on social networking Web sites yet, but one interesting study was performed by the MIT Sloan School of Management. In the study, researchers used a computer model to simulate the way users interact on social networking sites. Using 40,000 participants, the research team created what they called "random noise" -- cultural exchanges that mimicked online interaction. They found that users tend to form smaller groups with others who had similar politics, types of jobs and musical tastes. Not only that, but they even tended to link up with others who looked like they did.
It's a concept called homophily. The term was coined by sociologists in the 1950s to describe people's tendency to associate with others who have similar interests and beliefs. Sociologists Miller McPherson, Lynn Smith-Lovin and James Cook wrote a paper on the subject in 2001 called "Birds of a Feather: Homophily in Social Networks." They determined that people's personal networks are essentially homogeneous. The MIT study seems to confirm that similarity does in fact breed connection, whether it's the social networks we form online or the ones we have in our everyday offline life.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
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